Fire

Fire hope to avoid repeating recent mistake when hosting D.C. United

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USA TODAY

Fire hope to avoid repeating recent mistake when hosting D.C. United

Two weeks ago the Fire hosted Minnesota, which entered without a win on the road and with the lowest point total in Major League Soccer.

The Loons left Toyota Park with a win.

On Saturday, the Fire host another one of the worst teams in the standings in D.C. United. Like Minnesota, D.C. added some key players in the summer and has been playing better of late. The Fire will be hoping to avoid a similar mistake, especially with Atlanta closing the gap for third place after walloping Dallas and New England by a combined 10 goals in the first two games at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The Fire (13-9-6, 45 points) host D.C. (8-16-4, 28 points) on CSN+ (channel finder) with coverage beginning at 7 p.m. The Fire already beat United 1-0 at RFK Stadium on May 20, but midseason reinforcements have changed D.C.

“I don’t think it matters at this point,” midfielder Dax McCarty said about the previous win against D.C. “They’re a totally different team now, probably four or five new players in that are playing for them. I think they’ve gotten a lot of really good results lately. I think they’ve tightened up at the back. Defensively they’re a lot better.“

D.C. added U.S. national team player Paul Arriola, Hungarian Zoltan Stieber and Russell Canouse to its midfield in August. In the five games since Arriola’s arrival, United is 3-2, including a three-game winning streak that was snapped with a 2-1 home loss to Orlando last week.

“I know they’re coming off a poor result against Orlando, but before that they had won three games in a row and all by the same scoreline of 1-0 so that shows you that they’ve kind of got that defensive discipline that I think D.C. has kind of been known for the past couple years,” McCarty said. “They’re going to be hard to break down. They’re going to come in here and try to frustrate us and try to slow the game down… We’re coming off the positive performance (a 1-1 tie against the New York Red Bulls), now we just need to turn those performances into wins again.”

Both teams will be missing players due to injury. Former Fire winger Patrick Nyarko will not return to Toyota Park because he is out with a concussion. Defender Sean Franklin will also miss for D.C. due to yellow card accumulation.

Michael de Leeuw will miss the game for the Fire from yellow cards as well. Juninho will also be out due to a left knee injury.

Joao Meira could return from his calf injury. The Portuguese defender has been out for a month and was still limited in training this week, but was training with the group.

The bigger injury question is Bastian Schweinsteiger. The Fire’s German midfielder only stretched and jogged at training on Tuesday, but did begin kicking the ball on Wednesday. With Juninho already out, having Schweinsteiger return will be of more importance.

Regardless of who plays, Fire coach Veljko Paunovic preached urgency as a key factor with only six games remaining in the regular season.

“I think this point of the season, everyone sees every next game as a final and I think we’re going to have a very, very tough opponent, who did good summer signings and reinforced them so they had a good winning streak before the last game,” Paunovic said. “Obviously their confidence is better so it’s going to be for us, a tough, tough game, but the guys are ready and the guys are aware of the urgency.”

Chicago Fire vs. D.C. United

Where: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.

TV: CSN+ (channel finder)

When: Coverage begins at 7 p.m. on Saturday

Records: Fire (13-9-6, 45 points), D.C. (8-16-4, 28 points)

Fire rumored to be connected to former Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas

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AP

Fire rumored to be connected to former Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas

They don’t call it silly season in Europe for nothing.

The offseason rumors that pop up and, in some cases, happen make for good entertainment around the world of soccer. Sometimes those rumors are connected to MLS, whether or not the chances of them coming to fruition are high.

The latest example of this is Steven Goff of the Washington Post tweeting out a juicy rumor involving the Chicago Fire and former Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

Goff doesn’t sound very confident in it happening and there are plenty of reasons why, but there are also reasons why it could make sense. In this case, it makes sense for Casillas to be looking for a home to continue his career. When his contract at FC Porto expires at the end of this European season in June, he will be 37 years old.

It’s been two and a half years since he left Real Madrid, where he spent the rest of his career, and he’s not the elite goalkeeper he once was. If Casillas wants to keep playing he may not be able to stick at a Champions League club like Porto, and that’s where the MLS rumors come into play. It makes sense for Casillas to have interest in joining MLS.

On the Fire’s end, the team isn’t loaded at goalkeeper, although there are three keeprs under contract (Matt Lampson, Jorge Bava, Stefan Cleveland) with the possibility of a fourth (Richard Sanchez) also returning. The numbers logjam could be rectified without much problem if the Fire have a chance to snag Casillas.

His experience as a World Cup and Champions League winner (like Bastian Schweinsteiger), would be a nice addition to the team, regardless of age. Casillas was one of the best goalkeepers in the world and won Spain's La Liga five times and the Champions League three times in addition to winning the 2010 World Cup.

The question from the Fire’s perspective is if he could justify the high cost he would likely come with. Goalkeepers aren’t often highly paid players in MLS with the way the salary cap works. More flexibility has been added with more and more resources being given to teams from the league, but the cost of a player like Casillas may be difficult to justify at goalkeeper, even if he would provide another marketing and attendance boost like Schweinsteiger did.

This rumor makes for a good headline, but may not have much basis in reality. Still, there's a decent chance Casillas' name will continue to be connected with a move to MLS until he signs his next deal.

Fire's protected list for expansion draft hints at possible moves

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USA TODAY

Fire's protected list for expansion draft hints at possible moves

The MLS offseason doesn't take long to get in gear.

The Fire traded Arturo Alvarez earlier on Sunday, the same day which the list of protected players was to be announced ahead of Tuesday's expansion draft for Los Angeles FC.

LAFC will take five players in the expansion draft, which is set for 1 p.m. on Tuesday. A team can only lose one player. Each team can protect 11 players and homegrown players aren't eligible for selection. For the Fire that means Drew Conner and Djordje Mihailovic can't be taken.

The Fire protected David Accam, Jonathan Campbell, Johan Kappelhof, Dax McCarty, Nemanja Nikolic, Juninho, Matt Polster, Richard Sanchez, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Luis Solignac and Brandon Vincent.

While Sanchez and Schweinsteiger are out of contract, the Fire have said they are negotiating with both players. Protecting Juninho is a bit of a surprise because it implies that the Fire have some intention of keeping him for next year, or at least keeping his rights to be traded.

The Fire left David Arshakyan, Jorge Bava, Brandt Bronico, Stefan Cleveland, Jorge Corrales, Michael de Leeuw, Christian Dean, Daniel Johnson and Matt Lampson unprotected. De Leeuw would be a worthwhile pickup for LA if it thinks he is worth it after his ACL tear suffered late in the season.

With only five players being selected it's fairly likely no Fire players are taken by LAFC, but it's arguable that de Leeuw will end up being one of the best five players available. The 31-year-old tied for the team lead with eight assists and scored three goals.